Category: Father Brown

Book Review: The Secret of Father Brown

Have you wondered how the great detectives solved their cases? In The Secret of Father Brown, while visiting Flambeau’s house Father Brown meets a curious American who has to know as some of his countrymen think Father Brown is using mystical powers. Father Brown offers his explanation:

“You see, I had murdered them all myself,” explained Father Brown
patiently. “So, of course, I knew how it was done.”

Grandison Chace had risen to his great height like a man lifted to the ceiling by a sort of slow explosion. Staring down at the other he
repeated his incredulous question.

“I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully,” went on Father Brown, “I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.”

Even after further explanation, the American still doesn’t quite get it, so Father Brown introduces the stories as case studies in his method.

The eight mysteries that followed are asolid group. While, I don’t think the cases rise to the level of the brilliance of the Incredulity of Father Brown, there’s not a bad story in the lot.  Probably the weakest stories in the volume  are The Song of the Flying Fish and The Red Moon of Meru and that’s only because they seem similar similar to other attempted theft stories in other volumes.

Three of the cases were chosen for adaptation in the 1970s Father Brown TV series and are probably the best cases in the book:

“The Mirror of the Magistrate” finds Father Brown insisting that a revolutionary poet is innocent of murdering a judge. Father Brown’s ability to see the events from the poet’s perspective helps him avoid the assumptions the police fall into.

“The Man with Two Beards” finds police searching for a famous jewel thief who has emerged to rob again. He’s apparently killed while committing another robbery, but is that what really happened?  Father Brown probably faces one of his most clever and surprising adversaries in this case.

“The Actor and the Alibi” tells the story of a theatre owner being murdered where everyone seems to have an alibi. This is a case where nothing is what it seems and Father Brown has to see through  a clever rouse.

In addition to this there are a couple other noteworthy stories: “The Vanishing of the Vaudrey” is perhaps the darkest Father Brown tale I’ve read yet, while “The Chief Mourner of Marne” is one of the more profound. A man has secluded himself and is in mourning. Rumor has it that Catholic monks have forced him to do it due to a duel he fought with his brother. Father Brown seeks to uncover the truth and clear the Church of scurrilousness charges. Along the way, the story provides enormous food for thought on forgiveness.

Overall, this is a great collection with eight mysteries that will appeal strongly to any Father Brown fan and also showcases some interesting developments and growth in Chesterton’s philosophy.

Rating: 4.75 Stars out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Father Brown, Volume 3

In this Third Volume of the Father Brown Mysteries, Colonial Radio Theatre takes the stories from The Incredulity of Father Brown and the Scandal of Father Brown, two of the latter collection. Colonial an admirable job with the source material:

“The Oracle of the Dog”: A man is killed in his summer house and the strange behavior of a dog is seen as a key clue. Colonial had to do some work on this story as an adaptation. In the original Chesterton story, Father Brown doesn’t visit the scene of the crime, but rather solves the case based on clues given him by someone else. Thus, it came off as more of Chesterton’s criticism of literary treatment of canines in murder mysteries. Thanks to Colonial, this story comes alive while still getting Chesterton’s point across.

“The Miracle of Moon Crescent”: In America, Father Brown warns four skeptics of that a well-known in millionaire is in danger after telling a story of his encounter with a superstitious Irishmen. They scoff at him, but when the millionaire is found murdered with no reasonable scientific or  psychological solution presents itself, the skeptics begin to doubt themselves and begin to consider a supernatural solution. J.T. Turner did a great job writing the adaptation and captured the subtleties of the satirical elements of the story. The only thing that marred this one was that the accents seemed quite a bit off. Still, a worthwhile presentation of a great story.

“The Green Man”: A wealthy admiral is found murdered in full dress uniform by two golfers and it’s a classic whodunit. The story begins in medias res with Father Brown speaking to one of the suspects before the final denoument, a kind of interesting twist. The story is standard whodunit fare handled quite capably by Colonial.

“The Quick One”: A classic story of murder in a hotel bar of a a Tory curmudgeon. Father Brown insists that that the key to the case is finding an unknown man who stopped in for a drink and didn’t even bother to finish it. (i.e. The quick one.) The mystery was well and faithfully adapted. A couple weeks ago, I criticized the British TV version for trying to mitigate Father Brown’s views of the deceased as a heroic figure who was the one of the last men who could have saved England. Colonial avoided any revisionism in that regards. In one way, they actually improved on Chesterton with an edit. They moved a line that Father Brown delivered in the middle of the original story to the end when Father Brown was talking to his policeman companion on a train. Where it was originally written, it kind of seemed like rambling dictum that readers could easily pass over on their way to the solution. However, put at the end, it offers a vital explanation as to why a Priest would always be involving himself in Homicide investigations. This is probably the best Father Brown episode that Colonial’s done so far.

Overall rating for the collection: 4.5

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TV Series Review: Father Brown

In 1974, Father Brown came to ITV with Kenneth More starred as G.K. Chesterton’s sleuth. The series adapted thirteen of the Father Brown Mysteries to television. The results were a bit of mixed bag.

Kenneth More’s acting as Father Brown was certainly not a mixed bag. He played a delightful but cunning Father Brown, embodying the great clerical detective with warmth and humanity.

To be fair to the producers, as I said with the Colonial Theatre adaptations, the Father Mysteries are challenging to adapt because they were never written with dramatization in mind. Oracle of the Dog, for example, features a mystery where  Father Brown never visits the scene of the crime, while Curse of the Golden Cross features a murderer who never even finds out he’s been found out. Such results may make for interesting thought experiments and mental puzzles, but it makes for poor television.

The additional challenge with this Television series is that they had an hour for each episode. As both Colonial Radio Theatre and BBC Radio 4 have proved, half an hour is more than sufficient to tell Chesterton’s stories. The one hour format could allow them to flesh out the stories and make them more compelling and dramatic or it could allow them to merely pad the stories.  The producers did a little of both.

Several episodes hit the spot. “The Hammer of God” was faithful to Chesterton’s story with additional details added that made the story more compelling and interesting as a mystery. The same could be said for “The Eye of Apollo,”  “The Dagger With Wings,”  and “The Man With Two Beards.”  The series made some minor changes to “The Head of Caesar” but it still was quite well done. They also managed to neatly insert Father Brown into the action in, “The Oracle of the Dog.”

These were fine and perhaps the best of the lot was “The Hammer of God” which was powerfully told as well as faithful to Chesterton’s story. Perhaps the most interesting was, “The Secret Garden” which remained faithful to the spirit of Chesterton’s story while changing some details.  While I might have been biased by having read the story and hearing the Colonial Theatre adaptation, to me it seemed the telefilm made obvious who the murderer was, which gave the episode an almost Columbo-like feel as Father Brown seemed to take on a few more odd mannerisms. Columbo was, of course, based in part of Father Brown. So if the creators of the Father Brown TV series were consciously or subconsciously mimicking Columbo which was consciously based partially on Father Brown, then everything had come full circle.

Where the series had its weak spots was in realizing when something didn’t need changed or making the wrong change. In, “The Curse of the Golden Cross” the writers managed to replace Chesteron’s unsatisfying ending with an even worse one that makes Father Brown look  foolish. In “The Three Tools of Death” and “The Arrow of Heaven,” perhaps the Father Brown stories most suited for adaptation, the writers got far too cute for their own good in their attempts to doctor what were already fine stories. They also happen to be two of my favorites, so they annoy me.  Their changes to “Three Tools of Deaths” were tedious and merely padded the story.  Their version of “The Arrow of Heaven” made one unforgivable mistake. They set the story in England when Chesterton set in America. The strength and power of the story comes from not only the mystery, but the feeling of Father Brown in being in a foreign land with a foreign set of values on the issue of justice. Consider this line from the story:

Even as he did so he realized that he was an Englishman and an exile. He realized that he was among foreigners, even if he was among friends. Around that ring of foreigners ran a restless fire that was not native to his own breed; the fiercer spirit of the western nation that can rebel and lynch, and above all, combine. He knew that they had already combined.

Placing the story in England means that not only doesn’t the program communicate this idea, it discards it completely.

One other criticism of the series is that the show seemed to be at war with Chesterton at times.  Chesterton created Father Brown as a very orthodox Catholic Priest. Yet show creators put words into Father Brown’s mouth that totally violated his character. In one episode he declares that he likes talking to atheist because “he doesn’t have to talk shop.” and in another decries that as a priest, he’s often called upon to reunite families that would be better off separated. A more “cool” modern 1970s British priest might say that, but Father Brown?

Also, in, “The Quick One” Father Brown bemoaned the murder of a somewhat crankish Tory saying he was one of the few men who could have saved England. The show’s creators decided to insert an aggrieved daughter of the Tory who had been bullied and kept from her true love. This had nothing to do with the mystery, but it served to make the writers’ political point in disagreeing with Chesterton and added a good ten minutes to the story.

If you can get past the mis-steps and revisionism, the series offers several good adaptations and whether the material is good or poor, Kenneth More’s performance is always a saving grace.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

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Audio Drama Review: Colonial Radio Theatre’s 2nd Father Brown Collection

Last year, I reviewed Colonial Radio Theatre’s first Father Brown collection adapting classic stories from G.K. Chesterton.  I was pleased recently to finally download and listen to their second collection. As with the first collection, production values remain high with quality acting, and well-done sound effects.

This is a tougher collection for the adapters in some ways as two of the four stories they adapted are challenging ones to dramatize, but overall they carried it off quite well.

The Flying  Stars: It’s crime time at Christmastime. Father Brown is one of several visitors to a wealthy English home, including a young socialist where a valuable jewels called, “The Flying Stars” make an admirable target for thieves. And thieves strike-during a pantomime event.  This one was a bit slow getting to the crime as it dragged through preparations for the pantomime.  However, the story as written by Chesterton was equally slow-paced. As slow it was, it was also necessary for the character development of Flambeau and Colonial does listeners a favor by actually showing Flambeau reform. They also did a nice job setting up a transition to the next story.

Point of a Pin: Noisy construction workers are waking Father Brown up every morning as they work on an apartment building, but a potential union strike or lock out threatens to stop construction. The owner of the construction company  lays off his workers and then is murdered. A threatening note points to union radicals as the likely culprit but Father Brown has other ideas.  This was a lot of fun for me, particularly because “Point of a Pin” is a lesser known and later Father Brown story that I hadn’t read yet and Colonial did a great job in bringing this baffling story to radio.

The Three Tools of Death: Along with “The Blue Cross” this may be one of the best Father Brown mysteries.  I actually based much of my Father Brown chapter in my book, All I Needed to Know I Learned from Columbo on this story. However, it’s not always gotten the respect it deserved. In the 1970s, the BBC ruined the story when they adapted Father Brown for television because the original story was so politically incorrect. Colonial didn’t try to airbrush the story. They let it speak for itself and produced a faithful and well-done adaptation of this mystery that centers around Britain’s leading optimist and teetotaler being found murdered. At first, there are no weapons found, and then all the sudden, there are too many. Father Brown says something’s wrong with the crime scene, that all these weapons are “not economical.”  Colonial does a great job telling the story. They even preserved the post-solution ending. It features Father Brown, after having unraveled one of the greatest mysteries in the history of detective fiction, going on about his rounds as a clergyman. That right there tells  you all you need to know about Father Brown.

The Invisible Man: A young man wants to marry a beautiful woman, but finds her being menaced by an invisible man. Threatening notes are left, but no one seems to be around. A threatening poster was put up, but no one was seen in the vicinity. Finally, a man is murdered under the watchful eyes of a man who swore that he saw no one go in.  What’s going on? This story like, “The Sign of the Broken Sword” is one of Chesterton’s most influential stories. It’s also, like “The Sign of the Sword” in that it’s incredibly hard to adapt based on the bizarre ending that Chesterton gave the original story. Colonial tries to work around this by having Father Brown narrate the story, which really doesn’t work all that well. Still, it’s a good story and other than Colonial’s attempt to deal with Chesterton’s quirky ending,  the adaptation is thoroughly enjoyable as well.

Overall Rating for the Set: 4.0 out of 5.0 stars.

Colonial turned out another great Father Brown set.

EP0300s: Mercury Theatre on the Air: The Man Who Was Thursday

Orson Welles

In G.K. Chesterton’s classic, Gabriel Syme (Orson Welles) is a police detective infiltrating the anarchist counsel of Europe.

Original Air Date: September 5, 1938

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EP0272: Adventures of Father Brown: The Mystified Mind

Karl Swenson

A young man is accused of killing a windowcleaner, but Father Brown believes he’s innocent.

Original Air Date: August 13, 1945

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EP0267: Adventures of Father Brown: The Three Tools of Death

Karl Swenson

Father Brown investigates the death of a best-selling proponent of optomism.

Original Air Date: July 22, 1945

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